Britain announced it planned to slash its forces in Iraq by roughly half next spring, which would give the biggest U.S. partner in the war just 2,500 troops. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that British troops would switch from combat duty to an “overwatch” role, and focus on helping Iraqi forces take over responsibility for the nation’s security.
What the commentators said
The United Kingdom’s pullout, said Timothy M. Phelps in Newsday, “leaves Basra, Iraq’s second largest and most strategically important city, in near total chaos both politically and militarily.” At least four Shiite militias are fighting for control of the city, which is a key sea port surrounded by rich oil fields. No wonder U.S. officials are quietly complaining that Brown is “abdicating his country’s role” for the wrong reason—to shirk responsibility for an unpopular war.
That settles it, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. “The ‘coalition of the willing’ is over” now that Iraq has become “a political albatross” for everyone involved. But the British were right to go, because no “foreign occupier can stop Iraqi factions hellbent on fighting for power.” The best we can do is mediate, but if we wait for “stability” we’re in for an “indefinite and fruitless military occupation.”
The “men and women on the ground” are the only ones who have ever been “remotely engaged in this fight,” said the National Review’s Rich Lowry in the New York Post. The U.S. government has never put its full strength into the war. The American people have never been asked to share in the sacrifice. The Pentagon’s “slow-moving procurement” seems stuck in peacetime mode. For our soldiers, this has always been “the lonely war.”